How Long will My Personal Injury Case Take?
One of the questions that everyone with a Georgia personal injury claim wants to know is “how long will my personal injury case take?” Most clients like faster results—and we do too! After all, we don’t get paid until you do. But sometimes, we have to hold out and fight for awhile to get the best results for our clients (and for us). Here’s a word to the wise: good lawyers are willing to fight it out—bad lawyers insist on settling fast.
The shortest answer we can give about how long personal injury cases take in Georgia is: most cases are resolved between three months to two years after our firm becomes involved. The majority are somewhere in the middle. If your case can settle quickly, then it will be over in a matter of months. If you case has to be taken to trial, it almost always takes more than a year. Complex cases (i.e., cases with multiple defendants or corporate defendants) tend to take longer than person-versus-person car accident cases. If a case has to be taken to trial, we can usually get to trial faster in a rural Georgia county than in the metro Atlanta area.
There is no definitive answer, because every case is different, but you can consider various factors like case type, case complexity, location, and the how eager the defendant is to settle. You and your attorney must decide whether the case can be resolved quickly, or whether obtaining full compensation is worth the wait. Let’s look at the events between when you were injured and a resolution of your case, and explore some of the factors to think about when assessing how long your personal injury case will take.
Medical Treatment for Your Injuries
The speed at which your legal case move depends in part on how long your medical treatment takes. Depending on your injuries, you may need to see any number of medical professionals such as a primary physician, orthopedist, neurologist, chiropractor, pain management specialist, physical therapist or a host of others. Some people may require surgeries over a course of months or years, while others suffer contusions that are resolved in a month or so. The length, level of invasiveness, and extent of your medical treatments will figure into the time it takes your case to finish.
There is usually a two-year statute of limitations on Georgia personal injury cases. Within that timeframe, your personal injury attorney may advise you to wait until you have reached maximum medical improvement before making a demand of your insurance company or filing a lawsuit. Maximum medical improvement is the state where your treatment has done all it can do. This does not mean you have recovered completely, but it does mean that there most or all of your medical treatment is complete. When people are severely injured, sometimes those injuries are permanent. But at that point, it should be possible for your medical professionals to project your need for ongoing medical treatment into the future. Alternatively, your personal injury attorney may advise you to file the case while you are still receiving treatment. (At Butler Tobin, we do that a lot because it can accelerate the case.) But every case is different, and different cases require different strategies.
Complexity of the Personal Injury Case
In every case, the plaintiff needs to think about “liability”—that is, what the at-fault party did wrong. In some cases, liability is clear. In others, it isn’t. If liability is not clear, then the fight to prove that the other person is at fault can take extra time. A personal injury lawyer may need to interview witnesses, evaluate physical evidence, obtain and review documents, or consult with experts.
In other cases, the defendant may admit fault, but claim the plaintiff is also partially at fault. In Georgia, compensation is reduced by the percentage the plaintiff was at fault. The insurance company could also dispute the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries or claim the plaintiff received the injuries after the accident. (We’ve written about other insurance company tricks here.)
Fighting over liability adds time to a case. An insurance adjuster may even drag things out intentionally in order to wear down the plaintiff in hopes that he or she will accept a low-ball offer. If the insurance company continues to dispute liability or does not make a fair offer, then you should be prepared to go to trial.
Settlement or Litigation in Georgia
Once your medical treatment is complete, your lawyer will gather your medical records from your healthcare professionals. Medical providers often respond very slowly, so this can take up to two months. If it’s appropriate for your case, your attorney will then prepare a demand and send it to the insurance company. Negotiations can be over quickly, or can take months. It is important, even if you are willing to settle, for the defendant and the insurance company to know that your attorney is willing and able to take your case to trial. If the insurance company suspects your attorney is not willing to try a case, they won’t pay very much because they have nothing to be afraid of. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced Georgia personal injury attorney who has a track record of successful litigation.
Most cases settle before they ever see a courtroom. A great many cases settle before a lawsuit is even filed. But if you do go to trial, you are more than likely to be victorious, though the amount of damages the defendant must pay will vary according to many factors including the skill of your attorney. Plaintiffs win over 90% of personal injury cases that go to trial. So, unless the defendants have very strong evidence they did nothing wrong, the insurance companies have reason to settle. So, on the one hand, most cases settle. On the other hand, you must be prepared to go all the way through trial to get the best offer. This means your attorney must prepare both for settlement negotiations and for trial.
Once you and your attorney decide to file a lawsuit, it will take about a month to prepare. After your attorney serves notice on the defendant, they have 30 days to answer. After the defendant answers, discovery can begin. Discovery is where each party discovers information from the other through written questions, requests for documents and depositions. The process takes at least six months in Georgia, and usually lasts longer than that.
If the parties can’t reach a settlement but are not too far apart, they might choose mediation rather than going to trial. If mediation efforts fail, the parties can still go to trial. It can take quite a long time to get on the court’s trial docket, particularly in Atlanta. The length of the trial itself will vary according to your case, but many personal injury trials take between two and four days.
Quick Settlement vs. Litigation or Trial in Personal Injury Cases
Nobody wants to spend a long time waiting for his or her personal injury case to end. But it’s often worth the wait. Sometimes, a quick settlement is also a cheap settlement.
Be careful of any lawyer who promises a quick settlement. One thing you don’t want is to end up with a law firm that handles hundreds or thousand of cases at a time, and to whom you’re just a number. Many such firms settle their cases fast, even if they don’t get much money for their clients, and then move on to the next case. If you’ve been hurt, you should hire a personal injury lawyer who will take the time to analyze your case and do what’s best for you—even if that means that the law firm has to work harder and longer before collecting money for you and for itself.
Conclusion: How Long a Personal Injury Case Takes
If you want to get the entire amount you deserve for your medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, and interference with normal living, you should not rush your case. Your attorney will develop a strategy, and it may include waiting until as much of your medical treatment as possible is completed before making a demand of the insurance company or filing a lawsuit. That will depend on your individual situation. Early offers from insurance companies are typically only a small portion of what you may be entitled to receive for your losses. A good Atlanta personal injury attorney can explain your options and represent you against an insurance company that is trying to pay as little as possible.